Kasich’s lead over Strickland causes concern over education

Jessica White

John Kasich has the lead over Gov. Ted Strickland in the final hours of Ohio’s gubernatorial campaign, causing some concern about the future of higher education.

Kasich, a Republican, is ahead by 2 points, 49 percent to 47 percent, according to Sunday’s Columbus Dispatch poll.

In his four years as governor, Strickland has made higher education a top priority.

“If Ohio is going to have a sound, economic future, it is crucial that we invest in the next generation of workers by lowering the cost and increasing the accessibility of a college degree,” said Lily Adams, Strickland’s deputy press secretary.

Strickland froze tuition for two years in his first state operating budget and capped it at a 3.5 percent-per-year increase after that, boasting the lowest tuition growth in the nation over the last three years. Strickland has also worked to increase transferability and course offerings, making it easier for students to transfer to or from a less expensive community college or regional campus.

“There are now 65,000 more college students than there were four years ago when Ted took office,” Adams said.

According to Kasich’s campaign website, the Republican candidate hasn’t made his plans for higher education clear.

In a prepared statement, Kasich said higher education costs have been rising faster than health care costs and the funding model is unsustainable.

But Kasich has yet to say how he will improve this model. He has, however, emphasized his plan to lower taxes.

Higher Education professor Mark Kretovics said cutting taxes is a death sentence for universities.

“Tuition will skyrocket,” he said. “And our current $8 billion state deficit will only get worse.”

Investing in higher education

Kretovics said the question comes down to whether higher education should be considered a public or private good.

“Kasich’s argument falls on the side of the individual benefit and therefore, the individual should pay the bulk of the fare,” Kretovics said.

He said Strickland falls on the side of a public good.

“So the more educated populace we have here in Ohio, the better off the state is going to be,” he said. “And if you treat education as a public good, that means the state needs to pick up some of the tab.”

But Kretovics said when looking at the state budget, next to prisons, roads and Medicare, education seems to be the “least offensive” cut.

“I think education should be the number one priority,” he said.

Kretovics said educated people tend to commit less crime, cutting prison costs and tend to make healthier choices, reducing health care costs. He said educated people also have a higher income, which increases the tax base and gives the state more funding for other areas.

Kretovics said this kind of investment in education is a long-term commitment, and it would be about 10 to 15 years before people would see a return.

He said repeated short-term fixes tend to cost more in the long run and if candidates showed voters the data, voters might be willing to make this kind of long-term investment.

Short-term fixes

Political Science professor Mark Cassell also said short-term fixes don’t often work. He cited Kasich’s plan to lower taxes as an example.

“According to Kasich, if you lower the taxes, it will spur investment,” he said. “People will spend the money they save.”

But Cassell said this doesn’t work, and the proof exists in the after-effects of previous Ohio governor Bob Taft’s same plan.

Cassell said Taft passed a series of tax cuts that were phased in until last year, so if lower taxes drive the economy, the growth should be visible now.

“This is the moment when we should be seeing skyrocketing growth, and we’ve been seeing a loss of jobs and economic growth. Tax cuts by and large just aren’t that effective.”

Inevitable cuts

With the current deficit, both Kretovics and Cassell agree that cuts are unavoidable with either candidate.

“It’s just a matter of how severe those cuts will be,” Kretovics said.

President Lester Lefton said he can’t speculate about the candidates’ plans, but it will be an “interesting six months.”

“We won’t know how bad the cuts will be until January,” he said. “We have endured budget cuts before, and we’re still here. We can cut the costs, but that means some things just have to go.”

Lefton said he hopes whoever wins will see the value of quality higher education.

“You can’t say ‘make faculty teach more, pay them less, cut costs and be an economic engine,’” he said. “It just doesn’t compute. I fully endorse the ideas of greater access and affordability, but we have to invest to make that happen.”

Contact Jessica White at [email protected].